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Hiring a Pet Sitter

Why Hire a Pet Sitter?

Vacations, full-time workdays, ill or injured pets, ill or injured pet parents, pets that are attention-cravers . . . if you have a pet, you will probably benefit from the services of a pet sitter at some point. 

There are many reasons that a family may want to hire a pet sitter for their beloved four-legged family member.  A few of these reasons are listed below:

  1. The pet can't be left home alone for more than 8 hours.  For example, Spot needs to be let out to potty every three hours to prevent him/her from pottying in the house.
  2. The pet has separation anxiety or boredom issues.  For example, if Fluffy is left alone too long, he/she will wreck the house.
  3. The pet needs medical attention throughout the day, and the medical attention does not require a veterinarian to perform it.  For example, Duke needs to be given pills every four hours.  
  4. The pet needs medical attention throughout the day, and a veterinarian needs to render the medical attention.  For example, Sparky needs to be taken to the veterinarian's office once a day to receive a treatment in the clinic, after which time he/she may immediately return to the comfort of his home.  Then, he/she needs to be closely watched for about an hour thereafter.
  5. The pet's parents are ill or injured and cannot attend to their pet without assistance.  For example, Rufus needs his daily walk, but his parents have just had an auto accident that rendered them temporarily unable to walk him. 
  6. The family is out of town for several days.

Pet sitters benefit pets in the following ways. 

  1. The pet can stay in his/her familiar home environment.
  2. The pet can maintain his/her regular routine.
  3. The pet does not experience anxiety from traveling and staying in a unfamiliar place with other animals.
  4. The pet has companionship, someone to play with and be loved by.

Pet sitters benefit families in the following ways.

  1. Families have the peace of mind  that comes with knowing their pet is being care for.
  2. Families have happier friends and neighbors because they (the friends and neighbors) don't have to care for the pet nor do they have to deal with any misbehaviors of outdoor pets left unattended (i.e., digging under a fence, barking at all hours of the day and night, etc.). 
  3. Families do not have to take the pet anywhere as he/she gets to stay in the home: this creates  fewer logistics challenges for the families (nothing to pack for Sparky, no taking a fearful Sparky to the kennel and dealing with the guilt of leaving him there, etc.). 
  4. Petsitters can also bring in paper and mail, water plants, and perform other basic household chores while families are away as well.

How Much Does a Pet Sitter Charge?

Jerry Wentz, president of the board of directors of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, says that the national average for pet sitter income is $16 per visit.

Of course, the specifics of your pet sitting situation will determine the appropriate pay rate that you should offer (relative to the above-referenced average).  The factors that influence pet sitter income include the following.

In what region the pet is to be attended to.  If the pet lives (and is to be attended to) in larger coastal communities, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.  If the pet lives in a rural community in the Midwest, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat less than average.

How many visits in one day.  If the pet is to be visited multiple times a day, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.

Length of visits.  If the pet is to be visited for an hour at each visit, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.  If the pet to be visited requires only fresh food and water daily (approximately a five-minute visit), the pay rate will tend to be somewhat less than average.

Timing of visits.  Are the visits to occur on a holiday?  After hours?  Overnight?  If so, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.  Overnight pet sitting merits specific discussion.  Since each visit is one full night, pet sitters charge more per visit.  The national average for overnight pet sitter income is $60 per visit.

How many pets are to be attended to.  The more pets in the home that are needing to be attended to, the more likely that the pay will be greater than the average.  The average pet sitter pay rate assumes one to four pets:  if having a pet sitter sit for five or more pets in the home, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.  

The species of pets being attended to.  If the pet to be attended to is a cat, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat less than average (this is because, typically, less work is involved in attending to cats).  If the pet to be attended to is a dog, especially if it's a big dog, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.

If special care is required.  If medical care is required, especially if special skills will thus be needed in the pet sitter (for example, if a vet tech is needed as a pet sitter), the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.

If transporting the pet is required.  If the pet sitter regularly transports the pet (for example, to and from the veterinarian's office), the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.  (Side note:  A person who is paid to transport a pet is called a pet taxi.)  Pet taxis either charge per half hour or per hour. Because a pet taxi will incur greater expenses than a non-pet taxi pet sitter will (i.e., gas, automobile depreciation, etc.), a pet taxi's pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average (usually about $20-25 per hour).

Peripheral job tasks.  If the pet sitter will be tasked with bringing in the mail and the newspaper, watering the plants, and performing other peripheral tasks, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.

The labor market.  If there are more jobs than job seekers, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat greater than average.  If there are more job seekers than jobs, the pay rate will tend to be somewhat less than average.

Whether you will be paying $16 per visit, or somewhat more or less, hiring a pet sitter is usually a very good value for your money.  Pet sitting provides both you and your pet with peace of mind . . . and that is priceless.


Do You Screen Pet Sitters?

You are wanting to hire a pet sitter for your Fluffy.  You have accumulated resumes from prospective pet sitters.  Do you screen your candidates?  In a word, yes.

Interviewing candidates is always a good idea, but you cannot obtain all the information that you need to know from one interview.

During the interviews, ask your interviewees to provide you with their references.  Then, call each prior employer and personal and professional reference provided. 

Also during the interview, ask your interviewees for proof of bonding and liability insurance coverage.

You may also want to ask your interviewees to sign authorizations allowing you to perform a criminal background check.  You will be looking for any conviction that may indicate their fitness (or lack thereof) for your job (i.e., a conviction for animal cruelty or neglect).

If your pet sitter will be transporting Fluffy in his/her automobile, you may wish to obtain driver records from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Finally, you may wish to drug screen your interviewees.

If you recruit and hire a pet sitter through Care4hire.com, we will help you screen your candidates. We are here to make the hiring process as easy as possible for you.

When all interviews and screening are done, you should be able to determine which candidate is most qualified to care for your Fluffy.  


How Often Should a Pet Sitter Come Over?

You are hiring a pet sitter for the first time.  How often should you have your pet sitter come over to attend to your beloved pet?  The answer is that it depends on the specific needs of your pet.

If your pet is healthy and is needing a pet sitter for companionship, one visit daily is typical.

If your pet is healthy and is needing a pet sitter so that he/she can be let out to potty during your workday, two visits daily is typical.

If your pet needs to have medicine administered by a pet sitter or needs to be taken to his/her veterinarian for the administration of his/her medicine, the dosing frequency will dictate the number of times your pet sitter will need to come to your home.

If you are out of town for a period of days, the number of pet sitter visits will not necessarily change, but the amount of time that the pet sitter spends with your pet on each visit should be longer (relative to when the pet sitter comes to your house to attend to your pet during your regular work day).


Meeting the Pet Sitter

You have hired a new pet sitter.  What is the best way for you to introduce the new pet sitter to your pet?

Many pets are uncomfortable being left alone with a stranger.  Therefore, it is best if the new pet sitter comes to your house once or twice while you are at home before the pet sitter officially begins providing pet sitting services to your pet.  In these preliminary visits, the pet can see that it is ok to have this new person (the pet sitter) in your home and that this person does not represent a threat.  These preliminary visits are also good opportunities for you to show your new pet sitter what is expected of him/her and provide him/her with the information he/she will need to do his job (including information needed in the event of an emergency).  

You may want your pet sitter to bring special treats or toys on his/her first visit (and each visit thereafter as well) . . . something the pet sitter can use to facilitate building a bond with your pet.  If your pet knows that, every time the pet sitter walks through your door, he/she (the pet) will get a treat, it is likely that the pet sitter will be well received by your pet.  This ritual or expectation should be developed from the first day that your new pet sitter comes to your home.

By introducing the new pet sitter to your pet while you are present, and having the new pet sitter provide your pet with some desired object (a treat or a toy), you can be sure that the relationship between your pet and your new pet sitter will be off to a great start.


Red Flags in the Pet Sitting Hiring Process

When hiring a pet sitter, you are hiring a person to have unsupervised access to your beloved pet.  It is, therefore, essential that you hire someone worthy of trust: someone who will be a reliable, responsible, nurturing pet sitter. 

What follows are some red flags that may be exhibited by a candidate: things that, if seen during the interview process, should be reason to discontinue considering that candidate.

  • Doesn't show up for (or shows up late for) his/her interview.  This speaks to the candidate's reliability.
  • Doesn't have references, or doesn't have good references.
  • Doesn't pass his/her background checks.
  • Doesn't have bonding, professional liability insurance coverage, or National Association of Professional Pet Sitters' certification.
  • Doesn't exhibit an instinctive nurturing response when meeting your pet.  Most pet sitters, when first meeting a pet, will have a desire to pick up and snuggle a pet, will speak kindly to the pet, and will comment about how pretty/cute/handsome the pet is.  If you don't see these behaviors, be concerned.

By keeping a watchful eye for these red flags, you can take steps to ensure that you hire the best possible pet sitter for your pet.


Interview Questions

You are seeking to hire a pet sitter.  As you prepare to interview your candidates, what questions should you ask?  Below is a list of suggested questions.

  1. What is it that you like about pet sitting?
  2. How many years' experience do you have in pet sitting?
  3. What is the largest number of pets that you have sat with in any one home?  What were your greatest challenges there?  How did you deal with those challenges?
  4. What was the greatest pet behavioral challenge that you have dealt with?  How did you deal with that challenge?
  5. Have you ever dealt with an emergency in a pet sitting situation?  If so, please tell me about it and how you handled it.
  6. What was your favorite pet sitting experience?  What made that experience so meaningful for you?
  7. Have you ever potty trained a puppy?  If so, please tell me how you handled it.
  8. Have you ever handled an ill pet?  Are you comfortable doing that?  Are you comfortable administering medications?
  9. Do you prefer cats, dogs, birds, or ____? Why?
  10. Are there any types of pets that you refuse to sit for? Which types and why?
  11. Do you have pets of your own? if so, please tell me about them.
  12. Do you do any animal-related volunteerism?  If so, please tell me about that.
  13. Do you have reliable transportation?
  14. Do you have a valid driver's license and a clean driving record with the Department of Motor Vehicles?
  15. Do you have valid auto insurance?
  16. Are you comfortable driving with a pet in the car?
  17. Are you bonded?
  18. Do you carry professional liability insurance?
  19. Are you certified by the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters?  May I see your certification?
  20. What do you look for in an employer/family?
  21. Have you ever been convicted of a job-related crime (i.e., animal abuse or neglect)?
  22. Are you willing to bring in my mail and newspapers and water my plants?
  23. What is your expected pay rate?
  24. Do you expect to be paid before or after services are rendered? 
  25. Why are you the best candidate for this job?


 


Checking Pet Sitter References

As you are interviewing your prospective pet sitters, don't forget to ask your candidates to provide you with their personal and professional references.  A list of three to five references should be provided to you upon your request.  In addition to listing the references' names, the references' telephone numbers and relationships to the prospective pet sitter should be listed.  For example, a prospective pet sitter may list "Jane Doe, 490-301-xxxx, prior employer".

After interviews are completed, you should contact all prior employers and each person listed as a personal or professional reference to obtain work-related and character information about your candidates. 

Reference information can be obtained by in-person communication, via the telephone, through the mail, by fax transmission, etc.  In-person references can be time-consuming, inconvenient, and costly.  Written references, while not to be discounted, do not allow for a free flow of communication, and subtle messages may be lost due to the lack of body language, facial expressions, and vocal inflection in written communication.  Telephonic references, then, are the most effective and efficient.

When you place reference calls, you will want to begin with a brief statement of who you are and why you are calling.  For example, "My name is John Smith. I'm calling today because Pat Johnson has applied for a pet sitting job with me and has listed you as a  (personal or professional) reference.  Do you have a moment to answer a few reference questions for me?"

If the reference indicates that he/she has the time, then proceed to ask relevant reference questions.  You should have one set of questions for personal references and another set of questions for professional references.  (Sample questions are provided below.)

If the reference indicates that he/she does not have the time, try to make an appointment for a subsequent telephone call.  If you can make an appointment, make sure to call the reference back at the agreed-upon time: then, you can proceed to ask the relevant reference questions.

If the reference indicates that he/she does not have the time and is unwilling or allegedly unable to commit to a scheduled subsequent call, you may construe that as a poor reference.  In other words, this reference likely does not feel like he/she has anything positive to say about your prospective pet sitter.

Suggested personal reference questions:                           

  1. In what capacity do you know Pat?                          
  2. How many years have you known Pat?                  
  3. How well do you know Pat?                                      
  4. What are Pat's strengths?                                          
  5. What are Pat's weaknesses?                                   
  6. Please describe Pat's character to me.                  
  7. Do you think Pat would be a good pet sitter?         
  8. Is there anything else I should know?                     

Suggested professional reference questions:

  1. In what capacity do you know Pat?
  2. What were Pat's dates of employment?
  3. How well do you know Pat?
  4. What are Pat's strengths?
  5. What are Pat's weaknesses?        
  6. Please describe Pat's character to me.       
  7. Please describe Pat's work ethic to me.  
  8. Please tell me about Pat's job                                                                   
  9. Did Pat seem to make your pets feel loved and safe?
  10. Did your pets respond well to Pat?
  11. Did Pat handle your pets in a way that responded to the wishes of your pets?
  12. Did you ever have reason to be worried about pet abuse or neglect from Pat?
  13. Was Pat tidy?
  14. Was Pat good at/comfortable with administering any needed pet medications?
  15. How did Pat handle any pet emergencies that arose?

Once you have asked all the relevent reference questions, close the telephone call by thanking the reference for the time and information.  For example, "Well, Ms. Doe, that is all the questions that I have for you.  Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions.  I'm grateful for the information you've provided me.  (pause for the reference to say something brief in reply).  Good-bye."


 


Pet-Proof Your Home (Pre-Pet Sitter)

One of the best things you can do for your pet and pet sitter is ensure that your home is as pet-safe as possible in your absence.  After all, you cannot always be by your pet's side, watching to make sure that he/she does not get into things that can hurt him/her.

To pet-proof your house, walk through each room and hallway in your home.  As you walk, look for potential hazards.  Makes notes of these potential hazards as you pass through the rooms and hallways.  Ensure that you look in every nook and cranny that your pet can get into: if there is a potential hazard there, put it on your list.  Is that plant poisonous if eaten?  Could that crystal vase be knocked off the table with a tail, thus leaving broken crystal right where tender paws are?   Are your household cleaning chemicals stored in a pet-accessible location?  Are your electrical cords dangling in a way that your pet could trip over them or see them as a toy?  Are small objects (rubber bands, strings, etc.) pet-accessible? 

Once your list is completed, you will want to review your list.  Which potential hazards can you eliminate?  (For example, by moving the chemicals to a location that is not pet-accessible.)  Which potential hazards can you minimize?  (For example, by tying or covering up loose electrical cords so that they do not dangle any more than necessary.)  Which potential hazards can you work around?   (For example, if you have rubber bands, paper clips, etc. all over your home office, in pet accessible locations, perhaps you can keep the door closed to that room.)  Then, execute your plans to eliminate, minimize, and work around the potential hazards.  Any remaining hazards must be noted and communicated to your pet sitter.

Some tips on addressing potential hazards in your home include:

  • use baby gates to block stairwells and doorways that your pet should not pass through
  • use baby safety locks on your kitchen and bathroom cabinets
  • put padding (pillows, etc.) or other barriers around sharp edges
  • keep all chemicals (cleansers, cosmetics, etc.), poisons (plants, chocolate, etc.), fragile items (crystal vases, china dolls, etc.), small objects (rubber bands, paper clips, etc.), and other hazardous items (plastic bags, plastic rings from six-packs of soda pop or beer, etc.) in locations that are not pet-accessible
  • discard (or use only in pet-restricted locations) all chemicals that create harmful fumes (i.e., ammonia, bath/tub/tile cleaners, bleach, chlorine, gasoline, kerosene, mothballs, nail polish remover, oven cleaners, paint thinner, pesticides, propane, toilet bowl cleaners, and varnish)
  • tie or cover up all exposed electrical cords
  • securely store all people-food items in locations that are not pet-accessible
  • securely cover or store all of your trashcans 
  • close doors to rooms in which potential hazards remain 

If your pet is allowed outside your home (i.e., a dog who has access to a fenced-in backyard), you should pet-proof the pet-accessible outside areas to the best of your ability.  Safely store antifreeze, oil, leaf rakes, shovels, tillers, etc. in locations that are not pet-accessible.  Also, check your backyard for areas where your pet may have been digging near your fenceline (you will want to fill or create barriers around any dug-outs that may enable your pet to escape your yard). 

By pet-proofing your home and other areas that your pet has access to, you keep your pet safe, you make your pet sitter's job easier, and you minimize the risk that you will come home to tragedy.  By keeping your pet safe, everybody wins! 


Pet Sitting Myths and Facts

MYTH 1: PET SITTERS ARE EXPENSIVE. 

FACT 1:  The average cost of a pet sitter is on a par with the average cost of boarding a pet . . . yet your pet enjoys so many more advantages by having a pet sitter. Your pet gets to stay in the comfort of his/her own home, maintain his/her routine, eat his/her own food, go for walks in his/her own neighborhood, play with his/her own toys, sleep in his/her own bed, etc.  Boarding can be traumatic for pets due to being taken away from all that is familiar and being placed in an uncomfortable environment with lots of strange, noisy, worried dogs and cats.  Also, boarded pets may not get the individualized attention that pets with pet sitters get.

MYTH 2: PEOPLE ONLY USE PET SITTERS WHEN THEY TRAVEL.  

FACT 2:  Working pet parents hire pet sitters to attend to their pets during their working hours. Pet parents who are too ill to care for their pets hire pet sitters to provide the care that the parents are not well enough to provide themselves.  Parents of ill pets hire pet sitters who may be vet. techs. to provide in-home medicine, observation, and companionship . . . or to provide daily transportation to and from a veterinary clinic for in-clinic administration of medicine, and then to supervise the recuperating pet once he/she is returned to his home daily.

MYTH 3: PEOPLE ONLY USE PET SITTERS FOR DOGS.  

FACT 3:  Despite their reputations for extraordinary independence, cats, parrots, and other pets need attention too.  Additionally, all pets need food and fresh water daily.  Some pets (regardless of species) need medicines provided to them each day.  Pet sitters meet these needs for pets.   

MYTH 4: ASSUMING THAT ALL PROSPECTIVE PET SITTERS LOVE ANIMALS, ONE PET SITTER IS AS GOOD AS ANOTHER. 

FACT 4:  Some pet sitters are certified by the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.  Some are bonded.  Some carry professional liability insurance.  Some have years of experience and know just how to handle the typical "crisis" that can arise while pet sitting.   . . . And some pet sitters do not have any of these things, but still do a fine job of offering their love and attention to your pets.


Preparing for Your Pet Sitter

In order for a pet sitter to start a new job on the right foot, he/she needs to be provided with a lot of introductory information about your pet, your home, and the expectations that you and your pet will have of the new pet sitter.  If your pet sitter has to learn everything by trial and error, it will be a frustrating experience for pet, pet sitter, and pet parent alike. 

  1. Make a list of what foods, medicines, etc. are to be given to your pet, in what quantities, and at what intervals.  Include on this list the where the food, medicine, etc. is stored in your home and how the medicine is to be administered (orally in food, injected, etc.).  Some pet parents prepare individual servings of food and set them aside in advance for the pet sitter.  Either way, make sure that you have enough food, medicine, etc. for the period covered by the pet sitter . . . and then add a little extra food, medicine, etc. in case you are delayed in returning home, or perhaps the pet sitter or pet may damage some food, etc.
  2. Make a list of where your pet's harness, leash, toys, etc. can be located.  Some toys can stay with your pet in the absence of his/her humans, but some toys must be put away when their use can't be supervised.  On this list, also include the location of cleaning supplies (in the event of a mess), paper towels, a mop, a broom, garbage cans, a fire extinguisher, etc. 
  3. Create a mock itinerary for your pet, including some of his/her favorite things to do throughout the day.  Your pet sitter should try to maintain your pet's routine.  Does your pet usually nap in the middle of the afternoon?  Does he/she like a friendly rough-housing session each afternoon in the backyard?  Does he/she like to hide in a favorite nook or cranny at dusk?  (If your pet does have hide-aways, list of all your pet's hiding places on the mock itinerary.  This prevents your pet sitter from worrying that your pet has run away when he/she is really tucked safey away in his/her favorite cubby hole.)  You may want to include in your pet's itinerary what pet activities are allowed and what are not so that your pet sitter can plan and respond accordingly.
  4. Pet-proof your home and yard to the best of your ability.  Then, make a list of all remaining potential pet hazards.  These potential hazards may be environmental (i.e., pet-accessible glassware), biological (i.e., your pet's allergies and health concerns), or psychological (i.e., your pet's acute fear of all men).  If your pet is ill, let the pet sitter know what to look for and how to respond.  If your pet may bite, scratch, or otherwise harm the pet sitter, provide details on how often this happens, how severe it can get, and what usually prompts these incidents.  You will also want to inform your pet sitter about the location of your first aid supplies. 
  5. Make a list of important people to contact in case of an emergency, their telephone numbers, and where they can be located.  You will need to put yourself on that list.  Also on the list will be the veterinarian, your closest friend or relative, etc.  Attached to this list should be a photograph of your pet and any identifying characteristics, which will come in handy if the emergency is that your pet has run away.
  6. Draft a pet sitter contract
  7. Assemble the household related items your pet sitter will need (house keys, garage door opener, etc.  Don't forget to tell your pet sitter how to set and disarm your home security system as well.

A day or two before the pet sitting is to begin, the pet sitter should come to your house while you are home.  Your pet should be introduced to the pet sitter in your presence:  the pet will come to understand that it is ok for this new person to be in your home.  Use this opportunity to observe how your pet and the pet sitter interact: provide feedback if necessary.  Also, provide the pet sitter with the pet sitting contract and each of the lists you have made (see lists referenced above).  You should go over these documents with the pet sitter to make sure that he/she understands everything you have written and to make yourself available for any subsequent questions that he/she may have. 

NOTE:  If your sitter will be watering your plants, bringing in your mail and/or newspapers, or performing other peripheral tasks in addition to attending to your pet, you will need to provide supplemental instructions and supplies for the additional tasks.